WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Back on track: re-railed


There's a prominent article on page three of today's Dominion Post that, while it concentrates on a "stoush" between the city council and central Government, is good news for supporters of the Johnsonville rail line. While there have been signs for some time that Ontrack and the government wouldn't support ripping up the tracks, this seems to confirm that rail is safe. It's good to see that the government's new-found green principles might be having an effect!

There are some inaccuracies in the article that I'll address later, such as the implication that keeping the tracks rules out light rail as an option, but for the moment I'll just reproduce the article (which is not online, and not referred to on the council's website) for those without access to the paper.


Transport study is derailed

Adam Ray

A year-long $400,000 transport review has been derailed in a stoush between Wellington and the Government over public consultation, with the city's mayor saying submitters will feel betrayed. Transport officials are set to abandon the North Wellington public transport study, after three of four options presented for public feedback were ruled out by the Government.

"The Government has pulled the rug out from our feet," Mayor Kerry Prendergast said yesterday.

A Local Government New Zealand spokesman said it would be the first time such a major consultation had been stopped.

More than 1600 submissions were received as part of the study earlier this year, with strong backing for a busway to replace the rail line. A second proposal to retain the line and upgrade train services also proved popular.

Plans for a light railway or cycle/walkway to replace the railway had less support.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen has said the Government and rail agency Ontrack, which owns the rail corridor, opposed plans to remove the Johnsonville line - effectively ruling out three of the four options.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said about $400,000 had already been spent on investigation and public consultation. Those who had made submissions would feel betrayed.

Transport officials from Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington regional council will discuss the North Wellington transport study in a fortnight and are now expected to back plans to buy new trains for the Johnsonville line by 2010.

A technical report found none of the four options offered significant advantages.

Ms Prendergast said the consultation process was required by funding agency Land Transport New Zealand but there was little point continuing it when only one option was possible.

"The most disappointing thing is that we have created huge expectation in the community that we are not going to be able to deliver on."

Both councils have written to Dr Cullen asking for formal confirmation of his view on the study.

A spokesman for Dr Cullen said upgrading the railway was the most cost effective and environmentally friendly option.

"The consultation process was an initiative by the councils. Nobody approached the Government before embarking on this course."

The Government and Ontrack were planning improvements to the railway.

Local Government New Zealand governance manager Mike Reid said the councils were not required to check with the Government or Ontrack before beginning the study.

Consultation was important as it showed councils were accountable to the public and he doubted if Dr Cullen had deliberately sought to undermine the process.

"I suspect that the minister wasn't seeking to intervene but rather give his views."

Greater Wellington chairman Ian Buchanan said Dr Cullen's views reinforced technical advice that none of the four options were particularly strong.

"We should now get on with the rail upgrade."

20 Comments:

At 12:14 PM, November 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats sound like good news on the rail front.

Now hopefully there will be a meaningful study on options for improving bus services on existing roads. The rail upgrade will not solve everything and needs to be complemented by a decent bus system (particularly for Newlands & Churton Park).

A few things could be:

- Bus lane southbound on Hutt Rd between Onslow Rd & Kaiwharawhara lights.
- Bus lane northbound on Hutt Rd on approach to Gorge (giving buses an advance start).
- Bus lane Thordon Quay? (Probably unpopular with businesses due to loss of parking).
- Bus lane extension of Ngaio Gorge bus lane right up to the lights to give advance start.
- Peak hour Curton Park express services that do not run through J'ville town centre, but exit the motorway at the Churton Park off-ramp (Westchester Drive).
etc,etc...

 
At 1:42 PM, November 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least the issue is cleared up now, rightly or wrongly there is no more arguing.

I am wondering why the Government and Ontrack would oppose conversion to light rail, this would be far more economical, and provide better return.

Unless maybe there is some crazy pre-cold-war-style "maintaining an alternate corridor in case the tunnels collapse" idea. Which would be cool in its kookiness but is unlikely.

So I think they might well support light rail conversion. Given that streetcar style Light Rail is the best idea for Christchurch, and has applications in inner Auckland, I'd think it was a good opportunity to use the Johnsonville line as a test case for Ontrack to get experience building and managing such lines.

If they don't convert this to LRT then maybe the subway option starts to look necessary in the future. (The idea isn't as ridiculuous or unfeasible as most people seem to think.)

 
At 1:47 PM, November 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm also come to think of it this has implications on the city to airport corridor study too. If lightrail on the Jville line is out, then the idea of lightrail to the airport unfortunately becomes must less realistic.

 
At 1:47 PM, November 02, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

To sum up: Kerry Prendergast is ultimately responsible this $400,000 review. The submissions were badly skewed by bus propaganda, and made worse by *ahem* uncorrected typos in the Dominion Post.

On the basis of this she wants to throw good money ($100m or so) after bad by actually building the white elephant, despite never having had the authority to rip out the train tracks.

As a user of the train line and a rates payer, I certainly feel betrayed -- but not by the government.

 
At 2:34 PM, November 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All submitters betrayed? The 589 who supported enhanced rail (option 1) must be devastated.

"Plans for a light railway or cycle/walkway to replace the railway had less support". True but misleading - 456 people supported light rail & only 68 for the cycle/walkway. Does the DomPost ever have anything positive to say about light rail?

 
At 3:38 PM, November 02, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Anon 1: I can't comment on the details of your suggested bus lanes, but I certainly think that some sort of high-occupancy / transit lanes could help the Newlands & Churton Park buses avoid increased congestion. And based upon the last couple of years, if petrol prices keep going up there won't be any increased congestion.

Anon 2: I don't know whether the government explicitly rejected light rail, or whether that's just the council or newspaper jumping to conclusions. The govt & Ontrack have rejected "removing" the rail line, but the light rail option would use the existing tracks (or an upgrade theroef) so that's not an issue.

Baz: well said!

Anon 3: that's the other inaccuracy that I was talking about in the article. Strictly speaking it's true, in that 456 < 589, but the wording implies that it was comparable to the cycle/walkway.

 
At 10:46 AM, November 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that has always baffled me about the way the Johnsonville line has been run in the past, has been its gradual erosion by bus services (presumably subsidised by WRC),

I would have thought that a hub and spoke model would be the best with smaller buses (10-20 seater) serving as feeder services, but instead we have buses running in direct competition from wellington to Johnsonville railway station and then on to churton park et al,
( Yes there will be some who use it to get to work in Kaiwharawhara, but they will be a minority,)

The goal of any rail improvement should be to get the travel time from end to end of the Jville line down to 10 mins ( 15 tops), this would be faster than any competing bus service at peak time, and should hopfully push a few wellignton/johnsonville buses off the road.

 
At 11:25 AM, November 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not possible to get it down to ten minutes, it takes at least seven from Crofton Downs to Wellington. That means going roughly 112 km/h from Johnsonville to Crofton Downs, non-stop.

I don't think you understand the peak volume on the Churton Park and Newlands routes; it's not uncommon that they become full before the end of the route and can't take any more passengers. A feeder service is possible only with a substantial increase in rail capacity, because they're packed at the same time too.

And integrated ticketing, because it'd cost nearly twice as much otherwise. That's really the deal-breaker.

 
At 1:50 PM, November 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Tranz rail the track length is 10.5Km, meaning the current travel time of 21 minutes yields an av speed of around 30km/h.

yes, I know most of the time is actually spent at station stops, but I am sure with new rolling stock some reduction in trip time is possible,

Although with rail the way to beat road in passanger transport is really to make it a much more attractive package, include things like wifi access, scrolling news boards etc, rail needs to play to its strength to win hearts and minds,

I am aware of the peak issues and capacity constraints, and I suspect J'Ville is the prime candidate for the WRC's "seat removal policy", unforunate as it is.

The current problems have arisen simply because no one has looked at any solution because of a lack of $$$,

I do hope that when any upgrade is announced it is part of an overall evaluation of the whole northern suburbs in totality and not simply a "replace old trains with new trains".

 
At 3:09 PM, November 03, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Integrating ticketing really is vital. I was hoping that would happen with the Metlink rebranding and new zone system, but no such luck!

I don't think that the GWRC has a "seat removal policy" per se, it's just that they've been caught short by the increase in demand and you can't just pop down to the Warehouse for some new carriages! If any of the routes could handle some seat removal, it's that one: it's relatively short and slow, and at peak time it's already SRO by the time it reaches the closer stations. It's more of an urban metro line than a long-distance commuter service where people are going to sit down for 40 minutes and read the paper or use their laptop.

 
At 1:01 PM, November 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure that some reduction is possible, I just don't see it being enough to halve the time taken without cutting every stop south of Johnsonville.

My 112km/h measure was based on looking at the Zoomin map with a ruler to measure between Crofton Downs and Johnsonville. That's obviously not how it would go, but even so shaving off more than a few minutes isn't likely. There's usually a wait for the northbound train to pass at some point too.

It's possible to increase capacity by adding more or larger carriages; I just don't think it's possible by shortening the journey. With a little work to add another passing area it might be possible to increase the frequency, although I'm not really sure where that would fit (much of the line is very much limited in horizontal space).

Adding small feeder buses from Churton Park or Newlands would probably need a frequency increase, too, or else there'll still be overfull buses. Every ten minutes instead of 13-14 might do it.

The blurb I got from the council re: my submission on the Metlink zones said that they were working on integrated ticketing and listed a couple of obstacles. Hopefully they manage sooner rather than later.

 
At 5:39 PM, November 06, 2006, Anonymous LX said...

You'd have to ask why you'd start a consultation on options for the tracks without first talking to the owner of the tracks.

 
At 7:31 PM, November 06, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Exactly!

 
At 10:19 AM, November 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ONTRACK were consulted by the NWPTS and their advice forms a key contribution to the Study Reports.

For example, Page E11 of the North Wellington Public Transport Study - Scenarios Technical Appendices states: "Another option to provide priority for buses over the length between Hutt Road Overbridge and Lambton Interchange would be to provide a dedicated separate right of way through or adjacent to the Wellington Yards so buses could not come in conflict with rail vehicles. This would require the use of land currently used for train storage and maintenance and the operation and layout of the Wellington Station Yards would need to be altered. ONTRACK have advised that they believe that operation of a busway through the rail yards is not feasible due to safety and operational constraints."

So it is clear that ONTRACK have been fully involved and informed of the options both before and during the consultation process by the study. They also had the opportunity (which they took) to provide a submission to the Stage 2 Options consultation. The Submissions Full Report includes:

In relation to existing rail providers, Ontrack and Toll supported Scenarios 1 and 4 and opposed Scenarios 2 and 3. Specific comments by Ontrack included “Our recommendation would be that light rail is seriously investigated, with a second option of improving existing rail. The O-Bahn option (busway), with additional congestion when it reached Thorndon is an expensive and unattractive choice in practical terms”.

Only after the consultation period had expired did ONTRACK publically announce that "they" (and I thought it was us through The Crown) owned the track and they would not permit a busway to be built. There is the obvious implication they would assert this right even is the proper public process determined a busway would provide the best future public transport.

I can understand Toll Rail's position even if it leads to a worse service for bus commuters, (but not too proud to still accept subsidy $$$s from these same bus commuters) . . . but for a government agency like ONTRACK to overturn a proper local consultation at this stage and essentially oppose a National Transport Strategy that promotes public transport to their own (and Tolls) direct benefit is atrocious.

Rail Supporters may gloat but do you really think "the ends justifies the means".

 
At 10:45 AM, November 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're not overturning anything, they own the tracks. "Proper public process" would be for the Council to buy the land and tracks from them; OnTrack have every right not to sell. Possibly it would even require legislation to do that.

The Council evidently did not do proper due process in advance to find out whether the Crown was willing to give up a strategic asset. Local body elections are next year, feel free to vote the incompetents responsible out. Crown aside, OnTrack is a private, Crown-owned corporation, and your suggestion makes no business sense.

I also do not understand your assertion that they "oppose a National Transport Strategy that promotes public transport", especially in light of the rest of your post. The Crown is responsible for national strategy.

 
At 12:11 PM, November 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point is ONTRACK has had every opportunity to inform the study of it's intention as "owner" of the tracks to ensure a busway must not be considered and failed to do so.

If ONTRACK had informed the study that they were asserting their rights as owner of the track to prohibit consideration of a busway then the study would, of course, note this position and stop the waste of ratepayer funds. This somewhat important point was never communicated, not even included in the ONTRACK Submission to last round of consultations !!!!

As outlined in the story from The Dom at the beginning of this post, the regional councils are not obliged to contact every owner of land that may be impacted by every possible option. The study has equally not obtained permission from Transit to run more buses and implement bus improvements on State Highway One, but these were considered. The time for negotiating is usually when a preferred option has been selected (the NWPTS is not there yet). To have to across even four options would be a great waste of time and $$$s (as if it has already cost enough).

And there is a further very good reason for this. The Local Government Act places responsibility for delivering public transport services with the local councils. They are obliged to plan, consult and negotiate with the respective agencies to ensure improved public transport (as outlined in their LTCCP).

Further, where any government organisation has determined a better public use for any crown or local government owned asset, there is a suite of legislative tools and processes (including the Public Works Act) available for agencies to work through the transfer of the asset. This includes railway land (the Otago Rail Trail was created through this process by transferring land from ONTRACK to DOC).

All this works on the basis that all Crown agencies will work together to the greater public good. But ONTRACK is obviously the exception that proves this rule.

 
At 7:48 PM, November 07, 2006, Anonymous LX... said...

Regardles of the ownership of the tracks the technical evaluation of the options just released came out saying none of the options had a cost benefit of more than 1 and has recommended upgrading the existing rail line.

 
At 10:13 PM, November 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is the onus on OnTrack to state their position preemptively instead of on, for example, the Council to ask? The latter makes more sense to me, as the former seems to require some form of ESP in the general case. Plus asking is just, you know, polite, especially when it's a drastic departure from normal policy.

OnTrack is not a government agency, either, it's an SOE. There are important differences.

 
At 8:47 PM, November 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous: need I repeat myself AGAIN !. ONTRACK were were were were were were asked for their advice on using the rail corridor and they did not tell the study its conversion would be opposed by the government. Their advice is clearly summarised in the appendicies of the stage 2 report (page E20):

E.3.20 Operation of Buses on the Johnsonville railway line Right of Way
There is some debate over whether the Johnsonville rail corridor could be used for non-rail purposes such as a Busway. ONTRACK have written to Greater Wellington advising that under the Rail Network Bill which is currently before Parliament, the closure of a railway line would require the consent of the Minister of Transport. It also notes that unless ownership was passed to another Crown agency, buy-back provisions for the original owners of the land may have to be considered.

The position change was by the government and due to an agenda issues other than the relative merits of the rail or busway. If ONTRACK andd the government had any faith in the merits of keeping the Johnsonville Line, then why did they preempt the conclusion of the study. The powers-that-be were obviously worried that the busway may, actually, give a better public transport service.

(Sorry for all the bold above but anon appears to be a bit slow).

To LX: I am interested you have a copy of the confidential draft technical report for stage 3 that has just gone out to the NWPTS Reference Committee. You outlined its recommendation based on the economic modelling.

Of course a model is only as good as it's assumptions. So do your think the following two assumptions are reasonable.

1) The times as outlined in section 2.1.5 last sentance of the seventh paragraph on page 11

2) The assumed improvements as outlined is section I.10 paragraph one (and where is the option if these do not occur).

 
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